Causes, symptoms and treatment for ANAEMIA

MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK PART VIII

Statistics of anaemia in India and the world, normal haemoglobin levels and more about red blood cells and haemoglobin

If you feel fatigued all the time, have frequent headaches, appear pale, are always cold or feel light headed often, chances are you suffer from anaemia. If you do, you are not in it alone. Nearly 1/3rd of the world population suffers from it. In India, the prevalence goes as high as one in two i.e. 50%. 58.6% of children, 53.2% of non-pregnant women and 50.4% of pregnant women in India were found to be anaemic in 2016, as per the NFHS. Sooner you consult a practitioner and start the treatment for anaemia, the better it is.

What is Anaemia?

The simple definition of anaemia is lower healthy red blood cell count in the body. 

What is the function of red blood cells? 

They carry oxygen to the various parts and organs of the body for its healthy functioning and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. RBCs contain an iron-rich protein that gives blood the red colour, known as haemoglobin. These RBCs are produced in the bone marrow - a spongy tissue inside many of the large bones like the hip or thighs.

How is Anaemia diagnosed?

Anaemia can be detected by a simple b blood test and is characterised by a low haemoglobin count. The normal count of haemoglobin differs basis gender and age. For women, it ranges between 12.5 to 15.2 gm/dl (grams per decilitre). For men, the requirement is higher and should fall between 13.8 to 17.2 gm/dl whereas in children, the range is 11 to 16 gm/dl. Once it is determined that a person suffers from anaemia, the type of anaemia and treatment thereby may require further tests.

What causes anaemia? What are different types of anaemia?

As mentioned, anaemia is the lack of healthy red blood cells (RBCs) in the body. There are three main cases for it:

  1. The production of RBCs is not fast enough - the RBCs are produced in the bone marrow. One of the basic reasons for this to happen is the low absorption of nutrients in the body viz. Iron, vitamin B12, B9 and folate. Other possible factors that affect RBC production are:
    • Lymphoma

      If one has the cancer of the lymphoma, the lymphoma cells crowd the bone marrow thereby affecting the productions of RBCs. 
    • Leukaemia

      It is the cancer of the bone marrow affecting the ability of the bone marrow to produce RBCs
    • Multiple myeloma

      Development of abnormal plasma in the body displacing the RBCs.
    • Chronic kidney ailments

      Kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). This is a signal to the bone marrow to produce RBCs. Some ailments of the kidney might limit this signal thereby leading to a lower RBC production
    • Antiretroviral medications

      These are medications prescribed against certain viruses. Some of them may have a damaging effect on the bone marrow and affect the RBC production.
    • Chemotherapy

      Chemotherapy affects the bone marrow cells and has a negative correlation to the production of the cells.
    • Autoimmune disorders

      These disorders impact the ability of the body to absorb the nutrients critical for RBC production thereby affecting their count.
  1. The destruction of RBCs is faster than the production - In case the depletion of the RBCs is faster than the production, the RBC count keeps getting lowered and results in anaemia. This condition arises because of:
    • Enlarged spleen

      Spleen filters the cells in the body and traps the dying blood cells. Certain diseases cause the spleen to enlarge and trap even the healthy blood cells causing their deficiency.
    • Autoimmune disorders

      Some autoimmune disorders like lupus or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) attack the RBCs, destroying them. This can even affect babies in the mothers womb or affect an individual throughout the lifespan.
    • Sickle cell anaemia

      This is an inherited disorder wherein the shape of the RBCs is unusual i.e. crescent or sickle shape. These irregular shaped cells die prematurely thereby impacting the RBC count in the body.
  1. Excessive blood loss - Whenever there is a blood loss, one loses iron. The bleeding could be because of an injury, blood loss during menstruation or internal bleeding either owing to ulcers or accidents.

There are over 400 types of anaemia. Some of them are:

  • Anaemia caused by deficiency - either of iron or vitamins
  • Aplastic anaemia - wherein the stem cells do not grow the required number of blood cells
  • Pernicious anaemia - autoimmune disorder prohibits the absorption of the nutrients thereby resulting in low production of RBCs
  • Sickle cell anaemia - the shape and strength of RBCs is affected thereby killing more than required RBCs.
  • Thalassemia - there is enough production of RBCs but there is a problem in the formation of haemoglobin. This is a genetic disorder wherein the RBCs are smaller.

What are the symptoms of Anaemia?

Many of the symptoms of anaemia cannot be isolated and identified with anaemia. For example, frequent headaches or tiredness could be on account of multiple reasons. But typically once must look out for the following:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling like you are about to pass out

  • Fast or unusual heartbeat

  • Headache

  • Pain, including in your bones, chest, belly, and joints

  • Problems with growth, for children and teens

  • Shortness of breath

  • Skin that’s pale or yellow

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Tiredness or weakness

Can anaemia be prevented? Can anaemia be cured? What is the treatment for anaemia?

Unfortunately, many of the types of anaemia cannot be prevented, especially if they are genetic in nature. But, the anaemias on the deficiency are easy to prevent. One can prevent them by having foods rich in the required vitamins and nutrients.

  • Iron - Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
  • Folate - This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
  • Vitamin B-12 - Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
  • Vitamin C - Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These also help increase iron absorption.

For any other types of anaemia, bone marrow transplant or a surgery to treat the internal bleeding if any, might be only cure. Also, in cases of sickle cell anaemia, a complicated course of medication and supplements might be the only solution.

Regular health check ups can help in diagnosing anaemia sooner rather than later and further tests and corrective course of action can be determined by the practitioners administering the tests.

Ayurvedic treatment for Anaemia

Ayurveda bases the root cause of anaemia (for the deficiency anaemias) on the lifestyle and a poor digestive fire. Any ayurvedic treatment will deal with correcting the digestion and having natural supplements for the vitamins and nutrients that are critical for the production of RBCs. At Chyavan Rishi Ayur Siddha, we have a malt that can help as an ayurvedic supplement for haemoglobin generation, Chyavan KayaKalp Malt. It provides the required nutrients and ensures the production of RBCs. While this malt may work on deficiencies, one is always advised to visit a practitioner for further diagnosis and course of treatment.

If you would like to read up on the other blogs in this series called 'More common than you think', here are quick links for Urinary Tract Infection, Mental wellness, Tuberculosis, Constipation, Arthritis, Erectile dysfunction, Periodontitis / Pyorrhea, Kidney stones, Asthma, GERD / Acidity, Bloating